THE MORNING SHOW
Writing A Powerful Antagonist
It’s clear why The Morning Show is one of Apple TV’s big hitters from its complex characters to its stellar performances all the way to its progressive, relevant storylines. However, from a screenwriters point of view, there’s one element that’s particularly interesting, the intelligent and deliberate writing of the antagonist, Mitch Kessler.
Disclaimer: There will be spoilers moving forward.
The Morning Show follows the lives of Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), two news anchors at the breakfast show of the same name, after the dismissal of Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), due to allegations of sexual misconduct. The show explores the corruption of the network and how they allowed a sexual predator to not just exist but prosper.
There’s a temptation when writing a villain to make them formidable. They have to be strong and opposing, after all, the hero is only as good as the villain they defeat (Truby 2007), but that’s not the route that writer and show-runner Kerry Ehrin took. Mitch, is a complicated, well-developed character but most importantly, he’s human.
First, I want to start with the casting of Mitch. Mitch is the face that millions of Americans wake up to in the morning therefore he has to be likeable making the choice of Steve Carell well-fitting. He’s played many likeable roles throughout his career like Michael Scott in The Office or Andy in The-40-Year-Old Virgin. We know Carell, we like Carell. Even though we hear multiple allegations from the survivors of Mitch’s abuse, we don’t see it actually see it until the eighth episode. There’s still room for doubt and sympathy in the audience’s mind. After all, we get to experience the very charismatic, loveable, seemingly moral Steve Carell for most of the story. Then it happens. We see the devil behind the smile. This is the eye-opening moment that changes Mitch in front of our eyes. Showing the human behind the crime elevates the message and allows the audience to gain perspective into how complicated these events can be.
Mitch’s position at The Morning Show prior to his dismissal is one of entitlement. During his time on the show, he’s seen challenging men accused of predatory behaviour, he’s an active supporter of the #MeToo movement and his best friend is Alex Levy, a woman. This is an image that he’s presenting to the world all the while being seemingly oblivious that he’s a part of the problem.
"Because what you did was wrong." - Alex Levy
However, after his dismissal, he challenges the inappropriate sexual behaviour of a long-time friend seemingly costing him his friendship. Ehrin and her writer’s room have complicated and humanised Mitch, they’ve shown what he believes when no-one’s watching, really establishing his character. Mitch isn’t characterised as a bad guy, he’s characterised as a guy that did something bad and doesn’t know it. That’s worse.
Carell’s character is the bad guy in this story, but he’s only a part of the bigger problem. Mitch has been surrounded by yes-people for 15 years at the network. A network that supports the abuse of power that enabled a culture of silence. The support that Mitch received was all in reaction to his status at the network, and once the truth came out, he was torn from his throne and cast out of the castle.
One of his victims, Mia, was offered a promotion in exchange for her silence and discretion by the head of the network. This is the arena that Alex and Bradley have to navigate through on a day-to-day basis, making the conflict and the antagonistic force constant. That’s good writing.
The show does a great job of showing that a culture of silence is the perfect breeding ground for any confusion, any grey area, between right and wrong to manifest. It shows that these issues need to be discussed openly and honestly and the behaviours of predators like Mitch need to be understood and explored.
The Morning Show doesn’t just examine one guy bad guy, it examines a hierarchy, an institution, a culture, that’s jarringly reminiscent of real-life following the #MeToo movement. It’s important to discuss topics that are uncomfortable in order to understand them, to break stigmas, and to hopefully prevent harmful behaviour. What Ehrin and her writer’s room have done is shown the construction of Mitch’s mentality, she’s shown how he became deluded and also the consequences of his actions however most importantly, they’ve explored a character that’s echoed throughout society making for a very powerful protagonist.